NewsHas COVID-19 escaped from a laboratory? The theory comes...

Has COVID-19 escaped from a laboratory? The theory comes off the conspiratorial plane

Editor’s Note: This note was originally published on May 27. It has been updated with the latest information in this regard.

The theory that COVID-19 escaped in a laboratory in Wuhan, China has been around the world several times, sometimes only as a conspiracy theory, but increasingly with the force of a feasible hypothesis that explains the origin of the pandemic that has killed 3.6 million people.

This hypothesis, described as “highly improbable” by the World Health Organization (WHO), has recently gained strength in the United States, China’s main strategic rival.

A report on the origins of COVID-19 by the US government concluded that the hypothesis that the virus came out of a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan is plausible and warrants further investigation, it reported Monday, citing people familiar with the document. classified.

The study was prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and was submitted by the State Department when it conducted an investigation into the origins of the pandemic during the final months of the Trump administration, the report adds.

The report also found that the virus could have developed naturally – echoing what the intelligence community now says it believes – and multiple sources familiar with the document downplayed it,

The Wall Street Journal, which was the first to publish on this report, noted that scientists analyze the genetic makeup of viruses to try to determine how they evolved and spread in the population.

WSJ sources said U.S. intelligence agencies examined the State Department’s findings, which listed a number of circumstantial reasons why the coronavirus outbreak may have originated as a result of a laboratory accident, according to a fact sheet. January 15, 2020.

“The list of people who support the thesis of an animal origin has not moved. And the list of people who suggest that [the virus] could have come out of a laboratory continued to grow,” summarized a few weeks ago Scott Gottlieb, a respected former head of the United States Agency of Medicines of the United States (FDA) to the chain CNBC.

“A year ago ‘supporting the animal hypothesis’ made perfect sense because it was the most likely scenario,” he explained.

But what is called “the intermediate host,” that is, the animal from which the virus was transmitted to humans, has yet to be discovered. “And not because he did not ask for it,” he added.

“The question, for many people, is, when are there too many coincidences?” He noted, indicating a growing amount of “circumstantial evidence.”

The theory revives

The theory had been around for a long time. On Sunday, May 23, he claimed to have had access to unpublished US intelligence information, reporting that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology – the city in China where the new coronavirus was first reported – had already suffered in November 2019 “symptoms compatible with both those of COVID-19 and a seasonal infection “, and that would have required hospitalization.

Beijing has denied the Wall Street Journal information , calling it “totally false.”

The first cases of COVID-19 were identified in late 2019 in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, before the virus spread around the world.

The Chinese authorities have always denied the theory that the coronavirus emerged in a laboratory, specifically at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, pointed out directly by former US President Donald Trump.

Although this theory has been dismissed on several occasions, the publication of the WSJ caused requests to multiply for in-depth research on it, even among the scientific community.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden ordered his country’s intelligence agencies to report within the next three months on whether COVID-19 first emerged in China from an animal source or from a laboratory accident. .

According to the president, agencies are currently divided on the two possible sources of the virus.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) previously funded research on coronavirus in bats in Wuhan, but has denied supporting experiments that involve modifying a virus to make it more transmissible to humans.

The grant for those studies was canceled last year by the administration of former President Donald Trump.

The natural origin hypothesis – supported as the most likely by the WHO expert team that visited China – holds that the virus arose in bats and then passed to humans, probably through an intermediary species.

This theory was widely accepted early in the pandemic, but over time scientists have not found a virus in bats or other animals that matches the genetic signature of SARS-CoV-2.

This was not the case with SARS and MERS, previous coronaviruses that passed to humans and were traced to civets and camels relatively quickly.

The lab theory has been used by opposition Republicans to attack leading American scientists, including the NIH’s Anthony Fauci, and Beijing, who flatly deny the claims.

However, these same scientists now support a deeper investigation into the origin of COVID-19 that takes this hypothesis into account.

Fauci said Tuesday that he “is not convinced” that the deadly virus has developed naturally and encouraged more research into its origins.

That same day, the United States asked the WHO on Tuesday for “independent and transparent” studies of the origin of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The US Secretary of Health, Xavier Becerra, called on Tuesday for “independent and transparent” studies of the origin of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, during his speech at the annual meeting of the organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We have to better understand the pandemic in order to better respond to future threats, and studies of the origin of COVID-19 have to be transparent, based on science and on the independence of experts,” Becerra stressed by videoconference.

The WHO study, under suspicion

The United States already expressed its dissatisfaction in February with the preliminary results of the investigations carried out earlier this year by international experts in Wuhan to search for the possible origin of the pandemic, and considered that the Chinese authorities had withheld data from that WHO mission. .

The experts then indicated, after four weeks of work in China, that the most likely hypothesis of the origin of the new coronavirus was that it had been transmitted to humans from wild animals via one or more species that acted as intermediaries.

Other less probable hypotheses, but which have not been ruled out by the WHO either, are the transmission of the virus to humans through refrigerated or frozen food – the theory that China has most defended – and the leakage of the SARS CoV-2 virus from a laboratory.

The WHO report on the origin of the disease, presented in March, noted that at no time has the origin of the coronavirus been studied as a deliberate act. Nor was it investigated whether the virus is manufactured, since analyzes of the virus genome ruled out this possibility.

“You have to get to the bottom, whatever the answer, and it’s a priority for us,” said Andy Slavitt, White House adviser on the fight against COVID-19. “We need a completely transparent process from China and the WHO to help with this,” he insisted.

The head of the WHO himself, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for new research on the hypothesis of the laboratory leak. Several countries, including the United States, expressed their “concerns” and called on China to grant “full access” to their data.

On Monday there was a renewed application on the occasion of the 74th World Health Assembly. And the requests for additional research are growing, even within the scientific community.

In mid-May, a fortnight of experts published an article in the prestigious journal Science in which they stated: “We need more research to determine the origin of the pandemic.”

Theories of animal or accidental origin in the laboratory “both remain viable,” they wrote, but “have not been given equal consideration.”

Both “must be seriously considered until we have enough data,” they said, asking “public health agencies and research laboratories to open their data to the public.”

Facebook will stop vetoing the hypothesis

In this context, Facebook will stop banning the publication of theories that claim that COVID-19 was manufactured by man, as speculation about a laboratory accident in China returns to the debate in the United States.

“In light of current research on the origins of COVID-19 and in consultation with health experts, we will no longer remove from our platforms claims that COVID-19 was man-made or manufactured,” the group said, who also owns Instagram, on his website on Wednesday.

The social network, used by some 3.45 billion people on at least one of its four platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp) goes against its previous rules on disinformation in times of COVID-19, updated last month of February.

At the time, they included the prohibition of theories that suggested the existence of a human hand behind the virus, as well as the alleged ineffectiveness of vaccines or that anticovid injections could be toxic or dangerous.

“We continue to work with experts to monitor the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge,” Facebook said.

China accuses a “dark history” of US intelligence

China lashed out at the “dark history” of US intelligence services on Thursday after President Joe Biden commissioned them to investigate the origins of COVID-19.

China is highly sensitive to allegations that it could have done more to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beijing rejects the theory that the virus may have emerged from a virology laboratory in Wuhan and accuses the United States of peddling “conspiracies” and politicizing the pandemic.

The “motives and purposes of the Biden administration are clear,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Thursday, rejecting the need for a new investigation into the pandemic.

“The world has long known the dark history of US intelligence services,” he said, referring to the baseless US allegations of weapons of mass destruction that justified its invasion of Iraq.

Going back to the theory of a laboratory leak “is a lack of respect for science … and also an alteration in the global fight against the pandemic,” Zhao said.

With information from AFP

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